Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Open letter to Obama urging promotion of Democratic Reform & Human Rights in the Muslim World

Yesterday, 143 scholars from the U.S and abroad signed an Open Letter to President Obama, asking him to promote democratic reform and human rights in the Arab and Muslim World.

Obama coming in after eight years of Bush, with the symbolism of his victory and the new spirit of a different and if i may say so better White house,with a lot of positive capital, has never the less taken the world by surprise in terms of speed, it feels like the new administration has done more in 50 days than the former administration in half a term of office. Guantanamo is of course the most symbolic step, though i hope for more. Putting the peace process firmly on the agenda is another, though i can´t say that i´m that impressed with the administration´s less than subtle tilting toward Salam Fayyad as P.M in a new palestinian government, that is an internal matter, and the administration´s policy resembles the old one in practically every way visavi Hamas. There´s been tougher talk on Israeli settlements which is a good thing though. The Secretary of State didn´t impress me with her talk on human rights in Sharm al Sheikh, and the open letter couldn´t have come at a more appropiate time.

The list of scholars is a virtual Who´s who of Middle East analysts and democracy & human rights groups. To name but a few , Dr Anwar Ibrahim , the former Dep PM of Malaysia and current leader of the opposition, Michele Dunne, one of my favourite scholars , her colleague Nathan Brown, John Esposito my fellow Egyptian blogger and journalist Mona el Tahawy, her namesake Mona Yacoubian of the U.S peace Institute. Heavyweighters like Francis Fukuyama among many others.

It´s perhaps important to point out that three of the seven Egyptians/Egyptian/Americans who signed the petition to President Mubarak on Feb 28th, was also among the signatories to this letter, Saad Eddin Ibramin, Omar Affifi and Dina Guirgis.

I liked the fact that the letter includes parts of George Bush´s second inaugural speech as well as Condi Rice´s speech at the AUC in June 2005, and of course this line from the Obama inauguration -
“To those who cling to power through
corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side
of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

The most important part of the letter, is in my view this sample.

¨In his second inaugural address, President Bush pledged that the United States would no
longer support tyrants and would stand with those activists and reformers fighting for
democratic change. The Bush administration, however, quickly turned its back on Middle
East democracy after Islamist parties performed well in elections throughout the region.
This not only hurt the credibility of the United States, dismayed democrats and
emboldened extremists in the region, but also sent a powerful message to autocrats that they could reassert their power and crush the opposition with impunity.

In order to rebuild relations of mutual respect, it is critical that the United States be on the
right side of history regarding the human, civil, and political rights of the peoples of the
Middle East. There is no doubt that the people of the Middle East long for greater
freedom and democracy; they have proven themselves willing to fight for it. What they
need from your administration is a commitment to encourage political reform not through
wars, threats, or imposition, but through peaceful policies that reward governments that
take active and measurable steps towards genuine democratic reforms. Moreover, the US
should not hesitate to speak out in condemnation when opposition activists are unjustly
imprisoned in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, or elsewhere. When necessary, the
United States should use its considerable economic and diplomatic leverage to put
pressure on its allies in the region when they fail to meet basic standards of human rights.
We recognize that taking these steps will present both difficulties and dilemmas.
Accordingly, bold action is needed today more than ever. For too long, American policy
in the Middle East has been paralyzed by fear of Islamist parties coming to power. Some
of these fears are both legitimate and understandable; many Islamists advocate illiberal
policies. They need to do more to demonstrate their commitment to the rights of women
and religious minorities, and their willingness to tolerate dissent. However, most
mainstream Islamist groups in the region are nonviolent and respect the democratic

The letter makes a lot of sense to me, i never believed in W Bush´s democracy promotion talk , he was always a man of lofty words on democracy and human rights, but with very little intention of actually implementing any of the lofty language in real statements or policies on the ground. The authors of this letter praises his rhetoric while critizing the actual content of tools, or lack of tools of policy. He did the talk but shied away from the walk. In my view, the Bush administration liked to talk about human rights in Egypt, when it came to people like Ayman Nour and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, whom they could symphatize with and understand, but very seldom on human and political rights when the victim happend to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood for instance. Speaking out against human rights violations, regardless of what political view the wictims of those violations should be policy, and that has not been the case since at least 2006.

I salute the 143 people who signed the letter.

The letter in it´s entirety can be found here. More can also be found at the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy(CSID). Michele Dunne writes about it here.

I might say something more about it tomorrow(it´s five o clock in the morning and i badly need my sleep).

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


8:45 AM  

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